Even small changes in temperature as predicted year by year through to 2050 can precipitate a myriad of impacts on the physical environment, ecosystems and human interaction.
The interconnected nature of these changes is accelerating the damage that is being done. Effects noted from scientific research of the last 100 years and coming to bear on the planet now, ocean warming and marine ecosystems, extreme weather events and land based ecosystems, rising sea levels, melting ice sheets and glaciers, shrinking sea ice and ocean acidification.
Land areas change more quickly than oceans, and the polar extremes are the first to be impacted but in tropical regions rising sea levels and loss of corals and marine life are just as concerning.
Following on from this therefore are the effects on the human population. Island countries susceptible to rising levels, for example parts of the Maldives and some Pacific nations, will eventually disappear.
Additionally, recent extreme weather events, such as the destructive wildfires experienced in Australia, California and the Amazon rainforest in 2019, caused the loss of hundreds of human lives, over 3 billion animals and extensive damage to property. More recently, in 2022, Australia has again been hit, this time with devastating floods, demonstrating the unpredictability of these climatic changes. Some of this biodiversity loss will never be recovered, whole species of animals having been decimated with unknown flow-on effects on the surrounding environment.
Since 1970, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. Even if the global surface temperature is stabilized, sea levels will continue to rise and the ocean will continue to absorb excess heat from the atmosphere for many centuries. The uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is leading to ocean acidification.
Agricultural lands are also at risk from droughts on the one hand and sea level encroachment. Access to water for both crops and human consumption is being threatened. This impacts on human health directly from rising temperatures as well as the spread of infectious diseases and food security.
These physical climate risks have amplifying socio-economic effects. In developing countries economic disparities are exacerbated by climate change leading to large swathes of these populations migrating to other areas which in turn places stresses on these new environments. This can flow through to increasing insurance costs, higher commodity prices, increasing health care costs, civil unrest and lack of capital and resources to continue even the most basic subsistence existence.
The time to act is now.
University of Cambridge – Institute for Sustainability Leadership “The state of climate change and the underlying science” 2021.
McKinsey – “Confronting climate risk” 2020